The Fencing Lesson


Image composited from Photos by Yegide Matthews on Unsplash and adobe stock.

June 2018

I turned toward the gutter and soffit salesman standing next to me in our side-yard and said, “Who cares what this side of the house looks like.  Look at the mess over there.  My neighbor is an ass-hah…” 

The sentence died in my mouth as I noticed a small red light blinking on and off; on and off; on and off.    I was frozen.  Frozen like a deer in the headlights? No, more like the 21st century equivalent. I was frozen like a neighbor caught on a motion & sound activated security camera. 

How had I forgotten about that camera? 

“It alerts me as soon as there’s motion on this side of the house,” bragged A., our next-door neighbor, a recent Friday afternoon driveway drinking session.  “When we’re out of town, I can keep an eye on the yard.”  We took turns watching the feed on his phone as he jumped around the yard between our houses mugging for the camera.  We marveled at the great picture, the sound quality and the ridiculously low price on Amazon. 

The camera, now, undoubtedly, transmitted the salesman and I as we turned to look at Terra Ceia Bay through the low, old-fashioned chain-link fence separating the two yards.  

On A’s side of the fence, between us and the water, stood two Buick-sized blue-tarped piles.  They’d been there for years.  The closest blue mound contained the original contents of Angelo’s garage.  The far one, carefully stacked by his wife, N. in the spring of 2016, contained the contents of the dining room, kitchen and guest bath.  Peppered between the great tarped heaps were a wheel barrel, a cement mixer, a rusted bicycle and a stack of massive wooden beams, delivered 10 months prior, for a never built pergola. 

If all your worldly possessions are under a tarp in the backyard, maybe having a camera to keep on eye on them isn’t a bad idea.  

“I love fishing out there – lots of snook & redfish.  How long have they been remodeling?” the salesman asked, his chin motioning to aqua blue water of the bay just beyond the debris field of domestic fittings under A.’s oak tree .

Image created from photo by  Jielin Chen on Unsplash

“Three and half years.”

“That’s a pretty small house…what have they been doing?”

“Getting drunk,” I whispered – hoping my voice was below the threshold for the microphone.


Weeks passed.  I forgot about the camera.  I forgot about the gutter salesman who never bothered to send me a quote.  Life rolled on.

We saw A. and his wife socially around the neighborhood and the Friday night driveway drinking sessions continued all summer.  We talked about our remodeling projects.  Unlike us, they’d made some progress on their house and the contents of one of the blue piles had recently returned to the inside.

I thought things were looking up house and neighbor-wise.  We pulled a permit and ordered thirty thousand dollars’ worth of new windows – I mean a great water view deserves great big beautiful windows, right?


August 2018

N. called me at work to deliver a neighborly heads-up about “some fence work”.  It should be done by the time you get home.  

A neighborly head-ups up?  That’s new.

Image created from photo by duong chung on Unsplash

I arrived home to a fence that would make Donald Trump giddy.  Between our two houses and completely blocking the view of the bay from the first floor, was a nine-foot, solid white vinyl wall.   A.ordered a fence that was a good six inches taller that his mid-century ranch house.  N. averted her eyes and scurried into the house before I came to a complete stop in the driveway. 

I stood alone in the side yard and cried in the shadow of this non-compostable monstrosity.  After I was able to compose myself, I found A. in his driveway watching me.  He didn’t even wait for me to ask why.

“I put up the fence because my remodel is done but yours has just begun and I don’t want to look at all your mess.”

He paused for a dramatic beat before he added “Besides – Isn’t that what you’d expect from a drunk asshat like me?” and shuffled off.

Touche, A., Touche.